Foundation History

A dedicated staff, a strong board of trustees, a diverse membership, hundreds of volunteers, and the sheer force of James Beard’s personality and passions have propelled the James Beard Foundation to the forefront of American gastronomy.

 

After James Beard’s death in 1985, a group of his friends and colleagues led by cooking school founder Peter Kump heeded a call from Julia Child to do something with Beard’s house. While he was alive, Beard always welcomed students, authors, chefs, and other food and beverage professionals into his home—his kitchen was truly at the heart of America’s burgeoning 20th century food scene. Kump organized a fundraising campaign to raise the downpayment to purchase the Greenwich Village townhouse from Beard’s estate, which was held by Reed College.

 

On November 5, 1986, the James Beard Foundation officially opened the James Beard House “to provide a center for the culinary arts and to continue to foster the interest James Beard inspired in all aspects of food, its preparation presentation, and of course, enjoyment,” according to a press release issued that day. Calvin Trillin presided over an opening ceremony that welcomed Jacques Pépin, Judith Jones, Larry Forgione and other culinary world luminaries who had been touched and inspired by Beard.

 

Although the mission of the organization would evolve over the years, Kump, who had founded a theater troupe in a previous career, initially envisioned the Beard House as a performance space for chefs. On February 1, 1987, Kump wrote a thank you note to an influential young chef working in California who was generous enough to cook a dinner at the Beard House to help the new organization raise some money. “Dear Wolf,” Kump wrote to Wolfgang Puck, “When you initially suggested coming out and cooking a dinner here it gave us the idea for starting this as a monthly event. First of all, it is a good way for the Foundation to bring in regular funds. Second, it also performs a very valuable service to our members and the food community: for the first time the great chefs from outside the New York Metropolitan area can come here, allowing us to experience their food fully rather than just a taste in a party atmosphere. Finally, it starts a tradition for showcasing new chefs who have not yet received recognition.” 

 

Today the Foundation hosts more than 250 events at the Beard House annually, realizing Kump’s vision and maintaining Beard’s home as an important meeting place for America’s food community. See who’s visiting this month >

 

In 1990 the James Beard Foundation made another leap forward by establishing the James Beard Foundation Awards for excellence in the food and beverage and related industries. The first awards were given in 1991. By shining a spotlight on the people behind the food we were learning to appreciate and enjoy, the James Beard Awards preempted the era of the celebrity chef we now take for granted. See more about the Awards >

 

Throughout its history the Foundation has supported the culinary arts in a variety of ways. Our robust scholarship program has distributed more than $3.5 million in cash awards and tuition waivers to talented culinary students in need of funds to pursue their education. View our current scholarships >

 

Our educational programs—which take the form of conferences, festivals, tastings, lectures, classes, and workshops—have helped educate thousands of people about food and its centrality in modern life and health. In 2010, in anticipation of our 25th anniversary, the James Beard Foundation launched its annual food conference, bringing together a diverse group of thought leaders and stakeholders in the country's food system, as well as the JBF Leadership Awards, recognizing visionaries helping to make a better, safer, more equal, and more delicious future for everyone. See educational programs >

 

As an organization, the James Beard Foundation has evolved beyond the scope of influence any one person could have had, but all the while keeping true to the ideals that James Beard professed—that is, emphasizing the importance of simple, wholesome food, good cooking, and good eating by educating, mentoring, supporting, and caring for the people who prepare and enjoy it. We continue to build on the foundation James Beard laid.